3rd Coast Foodie
The PHOENIX SALOON in New Bruanfels, TX
I’m not sure what I like more… Food or History. I know it’s a weird combination. Food’s easy to explain and I think just about everyone likes food. Of course there are certain foods that individuals don’t like and that’s OK too. Me? I won’t eat meatloaf, Brussels sprouts, or Oreo cookies (not even the knockoffs). Of course there are the food item crazes that everyone loves and everything is flavored like it; right now it’s bacon.
Now history is either a subject that people find interesting or they ignore it. There is the saying that “if you don’t learn from the past, you’re bound to repeat it.” I have two thoughts on this… 1 As people evolve from generation to generation, history becomes lost and people no longer learn from it. To me, this is a scary thought as we watch the happenings in Eastern Europe. 2 Inventions. If something has already been invented, you can’t repeat that. You can improve on it, but not repeat. So, where was I going with this? The Phoenix Saloon. Not what you were thinking, huh?
The Phoenix Saloon is in downtown New Braunfels on the corner of West San Antonio Street and South Castell Avenue. When you first walk in you think what a quaint bar, it’s so old fashioned and gives you that feeling of going back in time. The Phoenix Saloon has a great history as it was built in 1871. It is credited as being one of the first establishments to serve women – of course it was in a ladies beer garden because a proper lady wouldn’t be caught in a bar. This area also had a stone-walled pool for catfish and at one time doubled as an alligator pit. Inside, where the stage is now, there was a pen containing a family of Hill Country deer. They had badger fights too and a parrot sat just inside the front door that would say “Have you paid your bill?” in German. In 1918 the Phoenix Saloon was closed because of Prohibition, but what is a bar to do? Build a brewery in the basement and run booze out of two tunnels, of course! The building was bought and remodeled into a department store in the early 1920’s and remained that way until the current owners, Ross Fortune and Debbie Smith, remodeled and re-opened the Phoenix Saloon in 2010.
Behind the 40-foot long bar, fashioned from cupboards the department store had installed, are 32 beers on tap! The bartenders and wait staff are very knowledgeable and can suggest the best drink for you and the kids can sip on sodas until 9pm. They have live music every Wednesday through Sunday featuring players and bands from all over the region! The Phoenix Saloon actually has two stages - a small stage next to the front windows which is typically used for the early shows (happy hour and whatnot) and the big stage, where the pen was, in the back of the room.
As you’re soaking in the history, music, and libations a very faint aroma starts tapping you on the shoulder. It’s not strong and you really don’t notice it; it’s just enough to remind you that you’re hungry, not just thirsty. Mm the smell of chili! Real chili! Now how do I mean real chili, because we can all argue that Grandma made the best? Well, everyone knows that chili is a Texas original, but I mean the Phoenix Saloon is the birthplace for chili powder. Back in 1894 William Gebhardt had a café in a back room of the saloon and this is where he created chili powder by drying and mixing spices and bottling it. He sold his chili powder from the café before moving the operation to San Antonio.
We asked the staff what their favorites were and Bruce, our bartender, suggested we start our meal off with fried green tomatoes. They use their own recipe that includes chili powder (of course), and the tomatoes were perfectly cooked, not soggy or hard, and I have to say these were the best I’d had in a long time! We had to try the Frito Pie, why? Because they serve it in the Fritos bag! This was a huge hit with the kids we had in tow and because it was for the kids we ordered it as a “single shot”. So what’s a “shot” you ask? Well that’s how the Phoenix Saloon describes the heat of your chili and there are four stages… Single Shot (mild), Double Shot (hot), Ring of Fire (burn, burn, burn!), and The Killer – you have to sign a waiver to have that one! The Chili, of course, is true original Texas Red made with sirloin and no beans. It’s served with a generous slice of home-made skillet cornbread, the perfect accompaniment! The burgers and sandwiches are served on your choice of fresh buns (regular, onion, jalapeño), so we tried one of each! We had an onion bun with the White-Shirt Burger which is infused with chili seasoning and served with chili mayo. Very flavorful! The Blue Burger is stuffed with blue cheese and topped with applewood smoked bacon and was on the jalapeño bun with blue cheese mayo. So good and so filling! I think our favorite though was the Chicken Sandwich. Shiner Bock marinated and grilled with spicy mango chutney on top. We had the regular bun with this, but I can imagine it would be wonderful on either the onion or jalapeño. At the end of our meal we were so full, stuffed really, that there was no room for one of their home-made cobblers and that just means we’re going back for more!